[NOTEBOOK]Women's image and contributionWhen I asked elementary school teachers about the girls they are teaching, I got the following replies.
"During sex education, boys blush with embarrassment, while girls are calm," one said. "Many female students complain about the lack of biographies of great women," another said. "Girls surpass boys not only in their school records but also in logical thinking," said a third, adding, "If we tell the boys to play soccer and the girls to play dodge ball, then the girls criticize us for having a double standard."
Korean female students are more confident the younger they are. Young girls seem to have no sense that they are persecuted by men and by society, unlike women of older generations. Since they already overwhelm the boys of their own age, when they become high-school and college students, they claim that they do not need feminist crusades to champion the rights of women.
Korean women have freed themselves from such old ideas as treating women as inferiors and honoring the patriarchal system. Just as the Korean economy has grown rapidly, relations between men and women in Korea are likely to change rapidly. Democratization, market opening and the 1997-98 foreign exchange crisis may have accelerated the change. One reason for the financial crisis may have been that Korea did not use its excellent female work force. The energy of Korean women, which shown in the cheering for the Korean soccer team during the World Cup games, has surprised us all.
The series on women that the JoongAng Ilbo began in September and recently concluded was intended to examine the surprising energy of Korean women and encourage society to use it as a driving force. How we channel women's energy will determine whether our economy and our nation advances or falters in the 21st century.
Korea and Japan are very primitive in using the female work force compared with other East Asian countries. According to recent statistics by the United Nations Development Program, the percentage of women among senior government officials is only 5 percent in Korea and 9 percent in Japan, but is 35 percent in the Philippines, 27 percent in Thailand and 20 percent in Malaysia.
Women lawmakers are 6 percent of the total in Korea and 10 percent in Japan, but that ratio is 17 percent in the Philippines, 14 percent in Malaysia and 10 percent in Thailand. The percentage of women technical experts is 34 percent in Korea, 45 percent in Japan and 66 percent in the Philippines.
Korea should reform its social system to use women's skills better.
At Carrefour Korea, a French-based discount chain, about 20 percent of the firm's executives are women. The firm selects executives based not on their gender but on their ability, and the company's results show the difference. Foreign companies doing business in Korea say that Korean women are excellent workers.
In addition, the 21th century is a new era in which females can be more and more competitive. The 21th century's new businesses, such as information technology, software and biotechnology, depend on brains, not brawn, and females can easily be leaders in those fields.
Finally, according to a survey by the World Bank, corruption declines and transparency increases when women have leading roles in a society.
Some men object and say they are worried about losing their jobs. That may be true in the government sector, where the number of jobs changes at a fairly slow pace, but in the private sector, more working women will result in more overall jobs.
But as we said in the first part of our series, women should also change. Women should not fall into family egoism and indulge themselves in shopping expeditions and tea parties; they should contribute their energy to society.
If Korean women and Korean society change themselves, the future of Korea will be bright.
* The writer is life and leisure news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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